The tricky part of determining the best training frequency is hitting the right balance between too much and not enough. Every runner is different, and what’s right for someone else isn’t necessarily right for you. We recommend a training frequency that’s inversely proportional to your fitness, so the fitter you are when you start training, the shorter your preparation period should be. A runner in excellent shape is better off with a shorter two-month prep, while someone who has never completed a marathon or is returning from an extended break can and should do a more traditional 12 to 14-week program.
What type of workouts are best?
Go ahead with your regular running on your normal routes, but also include a hill training workout about once every 10-14 days. A “hill workout” is one that emphasizes form and technique over distance or pace. Hill workouts place a lot of load and stress on your legs, an excessive number of hill workouts can lead to injury. Hill workouts should be a bit shorter than other runs.
Runners should also complete a long run every week (with an optional cut-back long run every 3-4 weeks). While the purpose of long runs during training is to increase endurance, long runs must become even more specific by implementing pace goals to maximize the odds of success on race day. A long run includes 2-5 miles of Goal Marathon Pace (GMP) at the very end of the run. Running at goal pace—on tired legs is a fantastic way of simulating what you’ll experience during the marathon.
Include progression runs to prepare the body (and mind) for the escalating effort of marathon running. These aerobic workouts are best used in the first half of marathon training and are great foundational workouts before faster, more sustained runs are incorporated. During a progression run, every few minutes the pace quickens so that runners are gradually running faster and faster. Advanced runners can do 5-7 miles of progression running. But faster is not better, so the fastest pace you should reach is your threshold pace during the last several minutes of the run.
Lactate clearance runs are where you periodically surge to about 5K pace or slightly faster for 30-60 seconds before settling back to tempo pace. The surge puts the pace much faster than tempo, introducing significantly more lactate into the blood stream. Lactate is responsible for that uncomfortable and often painful burning sensation when you work out. When you settle back into tempo pace after the surge, the body is forced to clear that lactate while still running. This helps the body process lactate more efficiently, ultimately helping push your lactate threshold pace slightly faster. Since this workout is quite stressful, it’s best to run them once every 2-3 weeks during the mid-late phase of marathon training. More traditional tempo, progression, and goal pace workouts will make up the rest of your workouts.
What about treadmill workouts?
On a treadmill with decline/incline options, follow the form, duration, and intensity tips above, but practice and train using the treadmill’s decline/incline. It’s not quite the same as running an outdoor workout, so we recommend including plenty of outdoor runs in your training. However, treadmill runs are fine occasionally.
If you don’t have a treadmill with decline/incline options, the next best option is speed work, especially speed work that emphasizes sustained paces that are faster than you normally run. The options for speed work are far too numerous to include here, but generally, you want to find speed workouts that are designed for a marathon or half-marathon training.
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